The legend of the great hero of the Maldives, and his humble wooden house
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With writers as formidable as this, my expectations were justifiably high. A heritage management consultant, Amita Baig represents the World Monuments Fund in India. She has worked as a conservationist in India and the Asian region for over three decades. Rahul Mehrotra is a practicing architect, urban designer and educator. He’s passionately involved in Mumbai’s urban and civic affairs, besides being professor of Urban Design and Planning at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. Both are published authors. As part of a project to develop a conservation management plan for the Taj, the duo made numerous visits to Agra over a period of five-six years. This was a while ago. They have allowed that experience to gestate and blossom into this— I’ll admit—wonderful book.
Credit it to the radiance of the Taj or to these excellent writers, but the book succeeds in shedding new light on a subject that has been much written about. The writers admit: “To tell the story of the Taj Mahal is a daunting task; to tell it anew is perhaps even more so. Yet in India, no building is comparable in concept, beauty, scale and ambition, and no story about it can be complete.”
Text apart, visually the book is a banquet of Mughal proportions, bringing together stunning photos—both archival and contemporary—as well as rare paintings and plans, illustrations and maps.
An early painting (see above), for instance, reveals that the gardens fronting the mausoleum were once lush with mature growth trees, a far cry from the look of the Taj embedded in our collective psyche (the lawns came only in the early 20th century). Don’t miss the remarkably detailed ASI rendering of Itimadud- Daulah’s tomb pictured above either. Besides a redrawn portrait of the Taj, there’s a wealth of detail on the building of Agra itself, its emergence as a world city (it even drew comparisons with Constantinople), and its defining riverfront location. Kudos to the writers for turning the spotlight on lesser known monuments like the Chini ka Rauza.
Agra’s heritage is under threat, of course, and “risks being totally eclipsed in the transformations that characterise contemporary India”. Taj Mahal: Multiple Narratives chronicles the journey of the Taj from ‘sacred personal space to a part of world heritage’ diligently, but avoids the dreary academic route with its approachable and engaging text that will appeal to a wide audience.
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